Updated 12:05 AM ET September 21, 1999
Residents of the nation's capital overwhelmingly voted to legalize marijuana use for medical purposes according to year-old ballot results released for the first time Monday after months of controversy. But at least one member of Congress vowed to work against legalization.
Sixty-nine percent of those voting on Initiative 59 in November 1998 voted yes, according to referendum results issued by the city's Board of Elections and Ethics Friday upon orders by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Roberts.
The results were never tallied or released until now because Congress forbid the city from spending funds to do the work. Unlike all other U.S. cities, ultimate control of the District of Columbia's fiscal and political authority resides in Congress instead of with local authorities.
Congress has 30 working days to block the initiative from taking effect. But Congress faces a conundrum.
While the fiscal 2000 spending bill it passed recently for the District firmly barred implementation of any medical marijuana initiative, that bill probably will be vetoed by President Clinton who opposes its spending curbs on needle-exchange programs.
Rep. Bob Barr, the Georgia Republican who authored the pending marijuana-funding curb, said Monday he will do whatever it takes to make sure his ban sticks. He did not elaborate in a written statement.
"Marijuana remains illegal under federal law and it would send a terrible message to America's young people to allow those laws to be openly flouted in the same city where they were passed," Barr said.
Initiative backers celebrated the vote totals announced Monday.
"This is great news," said Chuck Thomas of the Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbies U.S. and state lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana prescribed by a doctor for cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and other illnesses that cause pain or "spastic" reactions.
Not only was the 69 percent margin the highest vote total ever on a medical marijuana ballot, it also showed support was not just a West Coast phenomenon, he said. Similar initiatives were approved in Alaska, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Arizona.
"If the law takes effect it will be right here in Congress' backyard," Thomas said.
Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area, called Friday's 24-page ruling in Turner v. D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics a "tremendous victory for the First Amendment rights of D.C. voters."
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